Designs on Quality O&M

March 14, 2017

Article originally appeared in PV Tech Power Magazine.

O&M  |  Operations and maintenance has traditionally been thought of as something that happens after a PV power plant has been built and connected. But as Emanuele Tacchino writes, planning for the successful operation of a project, particularly a new PV market, begins long before construction.

Article Excerpt: Demonstrating to investors the strength of long-term commitment to a PV project is key to developing investor confidence in that investment. The time it takes to develop and build the facility is a drop in the bucket when compared to the time that the plant will be producing power.

A solar facility will ideally last for over two decades. An investor will be looking for assurance that the facility will continue to be a good investment long after the construction is complete and will be properly managed in the years to come. It is vital therefore to demonstrate at the very beginning of the development a strong operations and maintenance (O&M) plan based on the highest industry standards and to offer assurance that details of the plant’s design and engineering by the EPC contractor have been carried out in such a way as to simplify its maintenance over 20 or more years. There are various solutions, for example, in height and spacing of structures, for example, that can impact plant layout, power and, of course, maintenance. Some of these, such as leaving enough space between rows for vehicle access or cleaning machines, may sound obvious but in practice have not always been considered.

Typically during the development and construction phase investors focused in the past on the construction and grid connection of the project. Once this was completed, they started making considerations about what happens next. The trend is now moving to early inclusion of the solar O&M contractor as supervisor of the EPC engineering or eventually also on development permitting, instead of waiting for five years to see what issues come to the surface and then taking action.

A big part of the challenge in mature markets with operational assets is that they have not been properly maintained, but also that they have not been properly designed from the very beginning, starting from greenfield and from early stage development and permitting. There are no interests from the project developers after the project rights have been sold or from the EPC contractor after the two-year warranty period is over aligned with the investor’s interests. That is where a professional O&M contractor is a significant partner. The O&M contractor typically stays as a long-term partner of the investor, and stays with the investor in the investment for at least the next 20 years. So the asset perspective of the O&M contractor is different from the EPC contractor and from the developers, and investors are realizing that O&M players are the only real long-term partners for them.

A clear O&M plan in the initial concept and development therefore offers the assurance of quality, responsiveness and reliability long after the developer and EPC has moved on to the next project.

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